The Adult Education Strand at the annual ACSA Conference took place in San Diego in early November. By chance, it was a mere two days after the 2012 presidential election. Normally, this wouldn’t matter much to state education issues. But this year, one of the propositions on the ballot for Californians to decide was to raise taxes on the wealthy and increase the state sales tax under the guise that those revenues would go directly to schools. I’m not here to argue whether schools will actually get that money or whether our state legislators just waste the funds like they habitually do, but instead pass on some thoughts I heard at the conference and the overall tone of the conference with regard to the impact on Adult Education.

First off, a quick rehash. California funds Adult Schools out of the general fund of the state budget (plus some Federal monies like WIA and Perkins). In the last few years, that money was “flexed”, allowing school district superintendents to take the cash, shut or drastically reduce services at the adult school and spend the money on K12 programs. This caused numerous adult schools to close entirely or cut back services to low income individuals.

I’ll take a second to vent here… why these seemingly intelligent people would reduce services to low income people that help those individuals train for a job or get a GED or high school diploma to keep or find a better job (all things that actually help the economy grow and increase tax revenues) right in the middle of a recession when these individuals need these services the most is beyond me. Okay, back to the topic at hand…

The passing of Prop 30 theoretically meant that maybe, just maybe, the budgets of the adult schools would at the very least remain stagnant compared to last year. To the credit of all those directors and principals of adult schools, they were going about their business at the conference like all was well with the world. Learning about new regulatory requirements, getting ready for drastic changes to the GED (it’s privatized if you weren’t aware), and otherwise sharing best practices and networking. And then I sat for the general session with all the superintendents, principals and other administrators. The head of ACSA burst the bubble and said what no politician would say, especially Governor Brown who fought so hard to get Prop 30 passed.  The tax increase and estimated revenue of $6 billion from it, would simply mean that next year’s cuts to schools wouldn’t be AS BAD. Not an increase in school funding like they seemed to be advertising. No, there are still going to be significant cuts to schools.  Try selling that to the general public this coming spring after they just approved another monster increase in state revenue. But that is a local problem. Not a problem for our brilliant elected leaders in Sacramento.

So, what does that mean for adult education in California and the never ending struggle to educate adults and prepare them for the workforce? Probably more schools will be shut, especially the small ones in rural communities (never mind that those are often the most important ones). And more cuts to schools unfortunate enough to be in a school district with serious financial problems (oh yes, believe it or not, there are local governments in California worse off than our state government… you non-Californians can stop laughing now, except the Illinois readers). But, hopefully, many schools will continue the good fight and keep doing what they’ve done for 150 years. Educating adults, preparing them to go out into the workforce, earn more, raise their standard of living, and oh yes, pay more in taxes.

My hats off to all my colleagues who run the adult schools in California. Doing more with less money, trying to stay current with changes, managing a school, budgeting, hiring, firing, dealing with students, unions, technology… it goes on and on. I can’t believe these administrators can keep up with it all and still remain upbeat. A huge pat on the back to you administrators and let’s all hope that maybe the fiscal cliff will be resolved and the US economy doesn’t go off the deep end, making your jobs even harder than they already are.